Angel Heart Review
Alan Parker seems to wilfully contradict himself throughout his varied career (Angela’s Ashes, Evita). He is often the difference between a decent film and a great one but nor is he ever predictable. He follows the story with a sense of what and who it needs. Maybe that’s why 1987’s Angel Heart is at once entertainingly daft, as pulp fiction noir should be, but uncompromising too, at the cost of an easy commercial or critical win. It’s a brilliant, unassuming little mongrel, rich in filmmaking brio.
The casting was shrewd. It’s like a perfect storm that’s given the film a perpetual cloud of intrigue. And their characters have the most fantastic names; if you are so inclined to noir-ish tales with a horror slant, the synopsis just pops out. De Niro rarely does such a slight role, but he is a powerful, memorable presence as the mysterious Louis Cyphre. Mickey Rourke, uncannily like Bruce Willis, but with a talent that could have matched De Niro’s if he’d not suffered so much later on, is private investigator Harry Angel. Angel is hired by Cyphre to track down crooner Johnny Favorite, who has reneged on a contract; he follows the path through New York to New Orleans and bodies pile up always a step behind. And then there is Lisa Bonet in a strong, disturbing and sexually charged performance and the benefit of years doesn’t stop a wince when you realise she was just 19 and a star of family favourite, The Cosby Show.
Adapting William Hjortsberg’s novel, Falling Angel, Parker emphasised the Voodoo flavour in a plot reminiscent of Blade Runner’s playing with memory and relocated some of the story to a hot and sticky New Orleans. Harry’s out of his depth, more comfortable in his New York gumshoe haunts. It’s a heady mix of atmosphere, with witty dialogue undercut by a serious English folk Wicker Man or Hammer Horror vibe (emphasised by Charlotte Rampling’s confident performance). Parker’s influence again, perhaps. Add in the curious Jazz sax, not dissimilar to the same year’s Lethal Weapon, and Angel Heart is an entertaining contradiction that dares you to criticise.
Angel Heart has never looked this good and Brian Morris’ exquisite production design is allowed to pop, thanks to a painstaking frame-by-frame restoration. It’s a film rich in detail; just look at Harry’s desk in the opening scenes. This is an underrated period film too; the evocation of a lived in 1950s New York is wonderful and absolutely convincing. Sometimes a good HD transfer reveals the joins and a set looks like a set. Not so here, and interiors are lit with a classic muted neo-noir lighting, now boosted with HDR range so the transfer ably shows off the contrasts of light and dark.
1980s anachronistic eccentricities aside, the sound design is as rich as the image. From the sharp New York twang to the New Orleans Creole and Jazz. As it should, it sounds like a film of its era, but it’s beautifully spruced up. It isn’t effects heavy, but about evoking character, time and mood.
This is a generous set with clever curation bringing together a lot of archive material. Not to be scoffed at though, because some of it is valuable, especially Alan Parker’s stuff and the exploration of Voodoo.
- Alan Parker introduction, audio commentary and interview: a generous ramble introduces the film and the commentary is an easy listen. Angel Heart is a film with a production often as interesting as the story. Parker is an amiable, honest and self-deprecating host. He comes from the same era as Ridley Scott (though he’s more laid back), who he discusses somewhat in a 27-minute interview from French TV. Well worth a watch.
- News Features: a mixed bag of archive clips, typical of sycophantic run-of-the-mill making of features, but worth noting for rare behind the scenes clips. Alan Parker pops up again and his insight at the time of the film’s production is interesting.
- Personality Profiles, continuing the news features footage.
- Additional Interviews with Alan Parker and Lisa Bonet.
- Behind the Scenes (short clip of B-roll footage).
- A background In Voodoo: 5 excellent features exploring the history of Voodoo and its links with music and dance.
- Photo gallery: A classic (much missed?) DVD feature. A few minutes of random photos.